The race to develop civilian aircraft defense heats up

easily moved about and may be launched from vehicles, boats, or densely populated metropolitan areas.

A couple of weeks ago we reported that BAE and Northrop Grumman conducted what they described as a successful test of an on-board system which uses laser beams to jam the attacking missile’s homing system and divert it from its path toward the target plane. Yesterday, IAI and ELTA, a wholly owned subsidiary of IAI, conducted a successful test of their FlightGuard system. The companies say that FlightGuard is unique in that it offers an early identification of a missile launch and then quickly moves to divert the incoming missile from its intended target. IAI and ELTA are now working on the development of an advanced electro-optical system using a laser beam to divert missiles shot at the aircraft. The new system will become operational within three years and will complement the FlightGuard system.

ELTA’s anti-missile system is already in-service on more than 150 platforms, among them the F-16 fighter, and on An-32, Fokker 60 and Fokker 70, C160 Transall, C-130 Hercules, Boeing 707, and Gulfstream transport aircraft. The system has also been used on helicopters, including the Sikorsky UH-60. Elta flatly says that no aircraft equipped with its system has ever been shot down, although many have been engaged.

ELTA’s system uses six miniaturized ELTA pulse-Doppler sensors, which can easily be located to give all-around coverage. The devices automatically trigger the release of IR decoy flares if an attack is underway. The company claims the system gives greater than 99 percent probability of missile detection, and has a very low false alarm rate.

It is good to note that ELTA is sensitive to two issues. The flares used by the system burn for only 2-3 seconds, and leave only a gas with no solid or liquid residue. Thus there is no risk of the flares hitting the ground while still alight, causing fire and damage on the ground. This is important because many airports are located in or near heavily populated areas. Since a missile attack would occur at take-off or landing, the defensive system will engage the attacking missile more often than not over residential or industrial areas. The second concern is cost: Flight Guard will likely cost less than $1 million per system, and if purchased in volume would likely cost around $500,000 per aircraft. This is good news, because legislation now being developed in Congress calls for limiting the allocation for defensive measures to $1 million per plane.

-read more about FlightGuard at this Israeli-Weapons Web site; and at ELTA Web site; read more about BAE’s Jeteye at company Web site